July 28, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Trilobite Tree Is Upside Down

Darwin predicted that life would become more diverse over time, like the branches on a tree.  The pattern of trilobites in the fossil record is just the opposite: more diversity appears in the lower layers, and less diversity in the upper layers.  Surprisingly, evolutionary paleontologists are turning this into evidence for Darwin’s theory.
    Science Daily titled their article, “Fossils Older Than Dinosaurs Reveal Pattern Of Early Animal Evolution On Earth.”  Acknowledging that trilobites appeared in “an unprecedented explosion of life on Earth” in the Cambrian strata, the article doesn’t hint that this causes any problem for evolution.  It quotes Mark Webster (U of Chicago) explaining the evidence in support of evolution: “From an evolutionary perspective, the more variable a species is, the more raw material natural selection has to operate on.”
    The idea is that trilobites started out in a more plastic state – more variable – and became channelized into specific body patterns later.  Maybe this was because ecological niches forced the later trilobites into particular habitats that inhibited variation.  Or maybe developmental processes within the early trilobites caused fewer constraints on the appearance of the organism.  Or maybe neither.  Webster said, “We need to tease apart what’s controlling this pattern of high within-species variation.  There’s a lot more work to do.
    Regardless, evolutionary theory itself was not pictured in any danger.  The article did not explain how the complex body types arose almost instantly by an evolutionary mechanism.  Instead, it just claimed they “emerged” rapidly: “during the Cambrian Period, more complex creatures with skeletons, eyes and limbs emerged with amazing suddenness.”  Webster gave his explanation a warm, fuzzy feeling.  The article paraphrased him saying that it appears that organisms displayed “rampant” within-species variation “in the ‘warm afterglow’ of the Cambrian explosion.
    Trilobites had bilateral symmetry, specialized body segments, articulated limbs for mobility, and some of the most complex eyes known in marine invertebrates (09/18/2003,   No precursors to trilobites in earlier strata have been identified.  The first trilobites were already fully formed with all their complex organs and structures.
    Because the data were found to be opposite what evolutionary theory would have predicted, Gene Hunt of the Smithsonian won Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week for the following statements in Science that spun the contrary evidence into support for evolution (words indicative of miracles are highlighted in bold):

This study, in establishing the reality of increased Cambrian variability for trilobites, implies that evolutionary processes in the distant past may have acted differently, or in a different balance than in more recent periods of time.  The cause or causes for these differences likely relate to the proposed explanations for the extravagant evolutionary inventiveness of this period.  These explanations fall into two broad categories: genetic and ecological.  The former suggest that Cambrian genomes were less constrained, or otherwise less apt to generate profoundly novel morphologies, whereas the latter invoke the relative sparseness of early animal ecosystems in allowing large evolutionary jumps to become successfully established.
    As Webster notes, either or both of these explanations may account for the greater variability of Cambrian trilobites; more loosely organized genomes might be expected to produce a greater range of morphologies, and less occupied adaptive landscapes might be more permissive of the broad production of variants.  Nevertheless, this work highlights the uniqueness of the early Cambrian interval in the evolution of animals and thereby the importance of placing broad evolutionary patterns in a historical and paleontological context.

Mark Webster also used the term “evolutionary inventiveness” in the original paper in Science.2


1Gene Hunt, “Variation and Early Evolution,” Science, 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 459-460, DOI: 10.1126/science.1145550.
2Mark Webster, “A Cambrian Peak in Morphological Variation Within Trilobite Species,” Science, 27 July 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 499-502, DOI: 10.1126/science.1142964.

When the media, museums and universities are able to propound these magical fairy tales without any critical scrutiny, creationism doesn’t stand a chance being heard above the din.  Anything goes in ev-illusion (07/27/2007 commentary), including cartoons like Popeye (05/31/2005 commentary).
    How can this multiply-discredited theory ever get falsified?  The evidence can be 180° opposite Darwin’s prediction, and yet they turn it into a great victory.  Nobody asks any hard questions.  Nobody calls foul.  Nobody sees the intellectual crime being committed.  They get away with it, time and time again.  Doesn’t anyone in the scientific and media establishments have any sense any more?
    For a detailed look at the Cambrian explosion and a prominent evolutionist’s attempts to explain it, read our entry “Cambrian Explosion Damage Control” from 04/23/2006.

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